Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Politics Before Education . . .

Per the OD today the State Attorney General has claimed that students were denied entry to Proctor High School in violation of federal law.  It is interesting that the AG is bringing a suit against an entity that is both a creature of State law and under the control of the State Education Department. 

The question not asked is whether Utica City School District is in compliance with all of the rules and regulations of the State Education Department? 

If not, then the students are not getting the education to which they are entitled by law and an administrative proceeding should be brought before the SED to correct the problem. 

If UCSD has complied with all of SED's rules, then it must be presumed that the students are receiving the education to which they are entitled. 

If some federal standard indicates that the students are not receiving the education to which they are entitled, then the non-compliance with federal law is one that is permitted by SED's own rules. Since the AG and SED are both part of the State's executive branch, they are obliged to change the rules to ensure that all the state's school districts comply with federal law. 

Neither the AG nor the federal court have any expertise in education – which risks that any decision coming out of the federal court in this case may be educationally harmful to the students involved. 

The fact that the AG is willing to risk the educational well-being of these students by forgoing the State's own experts and proceeding directly to federal court strongly suggests that the law suit is motivated by politics rather than any interest in these immigrant students' education.   

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Choosing the Bush . . .

This week the Utica Common Council rejected a purchase offer and specific housing proposal (that was touted before the election as evidence of Utica being "on the rise") in favor of the mere possibility that a much larger amount of money will be spent on a sports complex on the land across the street from the Auditorium.  What a difference a month makes!

I guess a "bird in the hand" is NOT "worth two in the bush."

Ultimately this may turn out good for Utica.  Between the noise and traffic of sporting events to the south and railroad tracks with speedy freight trains to the north, the site seemed an unlikely one for "market rate" housing -- and more likely to turn into the subsidized housing that previously occupied the site. That was clearly on the minds of the council members. Chalk one up for some common sense!

That said, the manner in which this unfolded is bad for Utica.
Rick Gefell, Purcell Construction Corp. business development director, said he was “blindsided” by the decision. “We were disappointed,” he said. “We expressed a good-faith proposal and in the 11th hour somebody else came in. There’s not much we can do about it but I guess we just have to wait and see.” 
The site had been vacant for 10 years, a developer comes in from out of town, spends time and money putting together a proposal for "market rate housing" -- something in which the city had expressed interest and had studies to demonstrate an existing market -- only to discover that "somebody else," unbeknownst to the general public, planned to turn the area into a sports themed district -- a plan that has no discernible details other than "sports," "45 to 60 million dollars,"  and that it involved that site.  (Does anyone see a pattern here?) And that vague plan by "somebody else" became the basis for the Council to reject the developer's proposal.

Prospective developers are sent the wrong message: "Beware, in Utica, the city's planning is done by those with an 'inside track'" -- in this case, the sports proponents.

Now at least one of the developers vying for the site is going to leave Utica on a sour note, because their time was wasted. . . . and others (especially outsiders who might bring in some new ideas) will be discouraged.

This sort of  "insider trading" had been a staple of Utica for years:  no wonder why people avoided Utica for so long . . . and just as interest finally picks up . . . this happens.

Utica needs to get its act together.  The fact that a sports facility can compete with a housing complex for the same parcel of land is crazy -- and demonstrates the unfinished nature of Utica's Master Plan.

It's time to finish the work of the Master Plan, and create a specific enough vision that both developers and the public can understand. No more wasted efforts.  No more surprises.   

Maybe then Utica will receive the PRIVATE investment it both wants and deserves.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Dropping Shoes . . .

A couple shoes were dropped on Upstate NY yesterday: (1) The FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Oswego County will be closed in 2017 putting 600 people (many highly paid) out of work. (2) An ALCOA aluminium smelting operation will close in Massena taking almost 500 more jobs.  

The FitzPatrick shut down is motivated by "economics" -- in this case the low prices of natural gas.

According to USA today:

The Oswego plant, which has been in operation since 1975, loses about $60 million annually, and its financial viability is worsening lately because of cheaper electricity generated through natural gas, according to the company.

The Alcoa shut down is apparently also based on economics:
A source close to the situation said Alcoa has been losing about $1 million a week at the West smelter.
Official reaction to these announcements was both predicable and illustrative of New York's wrongheaded approach to business. 

 In the case of FitzPatrick . . .
"The state of New York will pursue every legal and regulatory avenue in an attempt to stop Entergy’s actions and its callous disregard for their skilled and loyal workforce," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement . . .
Demonize the company?  The plant is losing money!  The company needs to stop losing money! What is so difficult for the political class to understand? Entergy is shutting down a plant worth $Billions . . . the shutdown process itself will likely to take years and cost over a $Billion (based on the projected cost of shutting down the Vermont Yankee facility.)  I am sure this decision was made with much angst.  To accuse the company of disregarding its workforce is not only nonsense . . . it demonstrates the "anti-business" climate existing in New York State that cannot be masked by "Startup NY" or whatever other crony gimmick there is to entice a business get into bed with state government.

In the case of Alcoa, The Watertown Times quoted Massena Mayor Currier . . .
“The industrial model has changed in this country. It’s no longer there. We have to stop chasing that; it’s not going to happen,” he said. Instead, Mr. Currier said, the region should focus on areas such as tourism and recreation. “I’m a firm believer that the 1 gig broadband we have, combined with Massena Electric’s affordable, dependable power, is a great economic development tool for this community as we move forward,” he said.
Travel and tourism? or 1 gig broadband? The political class has all the answers but fails to grasp the simple: ALCOA loses money in Massena.

Until New York State governs itself more like Texas, where businesses can make money, look for more shoes to drop.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A House of Cards . . .

According to the Rome Sentinel on 10/24/15:
The owner of a large hangar complex at Griffiss International Airport wants to substantially reduce its payments made to the county in lieu of property taxes, starting this year. The current schedule calls for $462,468 in each of the next three years. However, 394 Hangar Road Corp. now wants to pay the county $200,000 this year, $150,000 in 2016 and $100,000 in 2017 . . .
But if you have followed the goings on at Griffiss "International" Airport, you may have a sense of deja vu. About a year ago, per  a 10/16/14 Sentinel article, 394 Hangar Road Corp. requested from the Oneida County Industrial Development Agency (OCIDA) a $300,000 per year reduction in its PILOT payments, which were then about $750,000/year.
“Without a modification to the existing PILOT agreement, the building will not generate a positive cash-flow,” [said] a summary of the proposal.
Why was the building not generating a positive cash-flow?
The PILOT changes are being sought as annual refunds received by 394 Hangar Road through the state’s Empire Zone program are starting to decrease and will be zero after four years.
Since the Empire Zone funds were not available to governmental entities, and since the payments to the County go into operation of the airport, it sure looks like 394 Hangar Road Corp. was used to funnel state Empire Zone funds to cover Oneida County airport's operating expenses.  BTW, 394 Hangar Road Corp. is not just another private company.  It is a creature of Mohawk Valley EDGE,  with whom Oneida County contracts for economic development services .  .  .

The 2014 request was subsequently approved with the reduction effective for 2014, so if the current request is approved, the taxpayers would be on the hook to make up the difference of about $2,100,000 over 2014 - 2017. (Is it any wonder why the County has taken $2,500,000 this year from Oneida Nation gaming revenue for "tax stabilization?")

The Sentinel's current article indicates more clouds are on Griffiss "International's" horizon:
No matter what the IDA decides, PILOT payments from 394 Hangar Road will end after 2017. The county has the option of assuming ownership of the complex in 2018, a status that would make it exempt from taxes. And even if ownership remains with 394 Hangar Road, zero payments are required in 2018 and after. . . .

Additionally, the county is selling the former county airport in Whitestown to the state for $10 million later this year. The state has been leasing the older airfield with the annual rent being counted as revenue in the Griffiss budget since the airport moved from Whitestown to Griffiss in 2007. New York is paying $743,342 this year for the Whitestown location, which is home to the state Emergency Preparedness Center. That revenue stream ends when the sale is completed.
When all is said and done, as of 2018, between the $750,000/year in lost PILOT payments and another $750,000/year in lost rental from the old airport, the taxpayers will have to make up an additional $1.5 million per year in lost revenue on top of what they had been paying, as of 2013, to keep the airport running.  While the proceeds from the sale of the old airport may mask the airport's true financial picture for awhile, the discontinuance of both the PILOT and the rental income suggest that . . .

Griffiss "International" Airport's house of cards, built on payments from higher levels of government, is about to come tumbling down.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Partners in Poverty . . .

Oneida County, with the highest sales tax north of New York City and one of the highest sales tax rates in the country, is giving money away! Yes, believe it or not, as overtaxed as we are in Oneida County, the County has given away almost $3,000,000 so far this year.  It is called "Partners in Prosperity Funding" with the money coming from gaming revenue from the Oneida Indian Nation Settlement Agreement.

All the giveaways become occasions for press releases and big announcements. The latest grant announcement was Thursday: $500,000 to the Vernon Verona Sherrill School District for an "Animal Science Center." From WUTQ . . .
The money will go toward the construction of a building that can house 6 different types of livestock.

The funding and new center will expand the already established agriculture program at VVS High School. “What this does is allows our students to have an animal science program,” said VVS Superintendent Martha Group. “It also allows them to partner with local agriculture farmers, production individuals, and companies. So what the students can do is take on a real life experience working in the agriculture and science field.”
Without a doubt, this project will help students going into agricultural fields.  It will also increase the stature of the already award-winning VVS School District. But why is the County funding this project, rather than the Vernon Verona Sherrill School District, because, ultimately, the Vernon Verona Sherrill School District will be responsible for maintaining it?

There are many projects listed as being funded by Oneida County through its "Partners in Prosperity Funding" program. Like the Animal Center project at VVS, they all have merit -- and all raise the same question:  Why County funding rather than funding raised directly by the entity being benefited?

As already noted, these giveaways total almost $3 million -- this figure EXCLUDES amounts for "Tax Stabilization" and pursuant to "Revenue Sharing Agreements" with certain local jurisdictions.

"Revenue Sharing" was excluded because the Oneida Nation does not pay taxes to the entities listed, and revenue sharing somewhat replaces those taxes.  In this regard, VVS SD, which is getting the $500,000 grant for the Animal Center, is also getting $643,415.00 in revenue sharing.  Which all the more makes one wonder why VVS-SD does not fund the Animal Center itself?

The $2,500,000 listed for "Tax Stabilization" is really a grant by the County to itself.  While the County lists this as "resulting in 0% raise to the tax levy in 2015" it could also be listed as "masking an increase in County spending.

In the end, the taxpayers (anyone and everyone who buys almost anything in Oneida County) are still being taken advantage of by their own county government.  Money that should go to sales tax relief is instead being used to buy votes among constituencies and to mask more spending.

Rather than "Partners in Prosperity" we are "Partners in Poverty." The County takes more from us than it needs -- driving more of us to leave -- and making those left behind poorer.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Risky Businesses . . .

Per the Rome Sentinel: County seeks bankruptcy court OK to evict Midair
Oneida County wants to take possession of the hangar at the county airfield that was under lease to Midair USA before it filed for bankruptcy protection last month. . .

On Sept. 9, Midair filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, meaning it is likely to liquidate all assets in order to repay secured creditors. The company said it had assets of between $1 million and $10 million, as well as debts between $1 million and $10 million.

It is unclear where Oneida County stands when it comes to recovering even some of the money it is owed by Midair. . .

At the time of the bankruptcy filing, the old debt [to Oneida County] had been reduced to about $587,000. An additional $43,200 was owed for unpaid rent since the new lease was approved and before the bankruptcy filing.
So at this point, Oneida County taxpayers likely have lost at least $600,000 in the County's dealings with MidAir.

Being in business is always risky, requiring expertise to minimize risk, and sufficient return to not only cover expenses and balance out losses when they occur, but to make being in business profitable in the long run.  Here, MidAir lost out and will go out of business.  When its major client, Russian airline Transaero ran into trouble, Transaero's troubles caused Mid-Air's troubles.

Mid-Air and Transaero are not the only businesses in this story.  Oneida County, by virtue of being a landlord, has gone into business as well.  And in a domino-like effect Transaero's troubles which caused Mid-Air's troubles now cause trouble for Oneida County --  with the County's loss ultimately falling on the taxpayers.

-> Why should Oneida County taxpayers be exposed to risks originating in Russia?
-> Why should Oneida County taxpayers be exposed to business risks in general?
-> Why should Oneida County even be in business?

Certain things are best done by government, others best done by private business, and yet others where it may not be clear who can best do a particular task -- with trial-and-error being the determiner.

If they are not fatal (as in the case of MidAir) set-backs can be a learning experience for the business owner.  Sometimes the experience leads an owner to decide it is better to not be in business.

Oneida County may be at that point.  Should the County continue in the leasing business, exposing its taxpayers to business risks,  or, instead, should it sell its assets and transfer the risks to the private sector?

Perhaps a larger question, given the steep drop in use of the County Airport since its move to the former Griffiss AFB from the more appropriately-sized Whitestown facility, is whether the County should continue in the airport business at all?

The County needs to decide whether the risks to the taxpayers of being in business outweigh the potential benefits.  

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Downtown Hospital: Stepping Over the EDGE. . .

The right to private property, and the sense that one is secure to keep the fruits of their labor, encouraged the entrepreneurship that built this nation. So how would you feel if, unbeknownst to you, your property had been marketed to a potential buyer by an agency funded with your own tax dollars? Would you feel more or less secure to know that the same agency had previously taken private property by eminent domain merely to make adjoining property "more appealing" to potential customers? Would you feel better to know that the agency is run by local business people?  Or that the agency believes itself to be a "private" organization not subject to public disclosure laws?

While everyone debates the merits of the Downtown Hospital, the bigger story has gone unnoticed: Mohawk Valley EDGE's role in the decision to locate the hospital downtown and the threat presented by EDGE to local residents' and businesses' private property rights.

EDGE's operation may be legal in light of the Supreme Court's recent Kelo vs New London decision which broadened the scope of what could be taken for "public" purposes -- but it is bad public policy because it discourages private entrepreneurship.  The hospital illustrates how this happens.  From its website:
The footprint for the hospital would be located on 17 acres. There are an additional 17 acres surrounding the hospital which could potentially be used for parking garages, medical office buildings or other complementary facilities. Development of the 34 acres may not happen at one time but it is important to be future-focused on the expansion needs of the organization.
So while 17 acres will be immediately developed, a surrounding 17 acres will be in limbo until the "organization" determines what its "future-focused" expansion needs will be. What is the likelihood that anyone will want to invest near the hospital while the "organization" makes up its mind?  What is the likelihood that anyone will even maintain the surrounding properties? Those who think the hospital will "spur" more development downtown need to think again.

EDGE did not have to market this site to the hospital -- the hospital is not going to leave the area. There are other sites that would not involve taking private property, including the hospital's own St. Luke's campus.  So why was this site chosen by EDGE?  We can only speculate because we still do not know who originated the idea of a Downtown hospital.  Was it a politician?  Was it someone on the EDGE board? Someone with connections to the EDGE Board? Was it one of the hospital officials? Was it an owner of a business -- or a property -- that might want it to be taken? Who knows who? or Why.

As Justice O'Connor wrote in her powerful dissent in Kelo:
Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.
EDGE's practices place us all at the mercy of those "with disproportionate influence and power in the political process." In the end, this discourages private investment in Oneida County.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Hospital Board: Presumption and Arrogance on Display . . .

The guest editorial in today's OD by the Mohawk Valley Health Systems Board of Directors entitled "MVHS board welcomes public discussion on hospital proposal" reveals a level of presumption and arrogance on the part of the Board that the general public should find disturbing. Here are some highlights from the editorial and commentary.
The opportunity to build a new hospital for our community is significant and we, the Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) board of directors, welcome the public conversation that the project has initiated.
"Welcoming" public conversation now is too little too late.   The decision to permanently remove 34 acres from the tax rolls, close streets, and dedicating such to a single use, is a significant departure from the mixed-use, small scale, private tax-paying "walkable" development envisioned in the Utica Master Plan -- a plan that was duly approved by the public's representatives after numerous public hearings. The Board's proposal not only threatens the viability of the Master Plan's vision for the remainder of Downtown, it also adversely impacts Utica's future financial sustainability.  It was presumptuous on the part of the Board to propose a project of such magnitude Downtown without engaging the public first.    
When we, the MVHS board, conducted the site evaluation process for the new hospital it was very thorough. The meetings were not held “in smoke-filled rooms.” There was open, candid and robust debate at each meeting. This “game changing” opportunity has been discussed at virtually every board meeting for nearly a year. Over the summer the MVHS board held two special meetings with a single topic: where best to site the new facility.
The "open, candid and robust" debate occurring over a year and at two special meetings was anything but, since it was done in private without the participation of the public. It was arrogant for this Board to think it could make decisions on behalf of the public. As for the "not in smoke-filled rooms" comment, smoking has pretty much been banned -- but the concept contained in that phrase accurately reflects what has happened here.
As board members we shared our thoughts, differences of opinions and concerns. In the end, we voted for the downtown site. The vote was unanimous in favor of downtown provided we can do it in a fiscally responsible way.
From this it is clear that the Board (1) is only concerned with its own financial stability and (2) will resist any costly modifications to its project that may be necessary to reduce adverse impacts to the rest of Downtown. Anyone wanting such modifications will be marginalized as threatening the loss of the $300 Million grant.
At our board meeting on Thursday, Sept. 24, we . . . also discussed the assertion that representatives of the #NoHospitalDowntown have made . . . This week we sent a letter, much like this one, to a representative of that site asking him to stop. He does not represent any of the MVHS board members or our organization.
And you, MVHS Board, do not represent the public.
Our promise is to be as transparent as possible, understanding that this is a very complex project that will require input from community members, businesses and governmental agencies.
Your promise, MVHS Board, is belied by your past behavior.
- - - 

For another good read on the Downtown Hospital proposal, check out the Utica Phoenix!

The Hospital: An Inside Job . . . But by Who?

Today's article in the OD - New hospital: Separating fact from confusion - is more revealing if you read between the lines.
Why hasn’t there been more public discussion and disclosure?
As a private, nonprofit organization, the health system does not need public approval for its decision to build a hospital or its decision where to put it...
This is the excuse for not involving the public in deciding to impose a significant change on Downtown.  It is also a mischaracterization.  The project decision does need public approval as revealed in the remainder of that paragraph:
. . .It will, however, need planning and zoning approvals as well as county and/or city cooperation for any accommodations it might need, such as the closing of local roads.
Planning, zoning, street closures, "accommodations," etc., apparently are minor annoyances to the proponents of the plan, but are the points where the public has a direct interest and is why the public should have been brought into this process from the very beginning.  This proposal is totally inconsistent with the Utica Master Plan's vision of a mixed-use, small scale development, "walkable" Downtown -- a plan that was duly adopted by the public's representatives after many public hearings. No doubt the Downtown hospital idea will now be pushed through the public bodies making required decisions (following a bunch of "window dressing" "public hearings") as an "all or nothing at all" proposition with individual board members pressured not to stand in the way of $300 Million.
Why do we need a new hospital when we have three?
Need is a relative term and it’s not certain that a new hospital is needed...
So, really, the hospital is not "needed" which makes it a "want" rather than a "need." That makes a Downtown hospital even more a "want" rather than a "need."

This raises the question WHO "wants" a Downtown Hospital?    
Health system officials and their consultants considered 12 sites – three in the city – but will not release the list. They also have declined comment on any sites other than downtown and St. Luke’s. They did say that the other two sites in Utica were not determined to be suitable and were not put before the health system board.
If the health system board only was presented with two sites for consideration, then it was the health system "officials" and their "consultants" who restricted the board's consideration of sites.  Who are the "officials," who are the "consultants" . . . and, perhaps more importantly, who are their connections?  

Come on O-D.  There is a golden opportunity for some real journalism here.  Don't take at face value and merely report what you hear from the "officials" involved.

Someone originated the idea of a new hospital, Someone originated the idea as being ripe for state funding, and Someone originated the idea of putting it Downtown.  

Exposing the Someones and the complete chain of events will expose who really pulls the strings in Utica and the region.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Worst Possible Location!

The regional "Insiders" have struck again! 

The "powers that be" have determined that locating the proposed regional hospital in Downtown Utica is "best" for everyone.  No opportunity for public input.  No opportunity for the City Council or Planning Department to weigh in.  Inconsistency with the Master Plan's call for developing a "walkable" downtown.  More parcels of property taken permanently off the tax rolls.  

It has taken two generations since Downtown was gutted by the East-West Arterial Project and Urban Renewal Projects for the nascent start of a "walkable" Downtown to appear with Private investment and "infill" development in Baggs Square West. . . with the renovated Aud to become the focal point of a new Downtown.

Now a multi-acre medical campus will be plopped just across the street from the Aud -- another "urban renewal" project -- becoming an effective barrier to extension of Private development to the south of Baggs Square. Why this is a bad location, and a potential alternative location, were previously discussed here.

This project would not be possible but for the MASSIVE infusion of Public tax dollars -- OUR tax dollars -- but the Public's opinion is the last to be considered . . . if it is considered at all.

I just wish some local news organization would do an in depth study into How this decision was made -- not the justification for the site chosen (already mentioned in the news article) but WHO was involved in the decision making, What process was followed, and What other sites were also considered.   

It will tell us a lot about how we are governed -- and Who to blame for our current state of affairs.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Political Theater?

Richard Hanna calls the vote to defund Planned Parenthood "political theater" . . .

Carly Fiorina says
 'I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, to watch these tapes,' Fiorina said. 'Watch a fully-formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,' Fiorina said . . .    'This is about the character of our nation,' she continued. 'If you will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.' 
In a 1973 film, Charlton Heston said

What was shocking fiction to the American Public in 1973 seems oddly quaint compared to what is actually happening today . . . .


 'This IS about the character of our nation.' 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sales Tax Extension Slipped By . . .

At least WUTR was paying attention: Legislators Vote to Keep Oneida County Sales Tax 8.75% 

But was anyone else?  

Here are the relevant documents:

The underlying state legislation authorizing sales tax extension . (Note the dates this legislation was acted upon.)
Letter 8/17/15 (for distribution on 8/24/15) by County Executive requesting special meeting. (Note that action was deemed "time sensitive" and had to be taken before September 2, 2015.)
Notice of 8/24/15 Special Meeting with the county's legislation attached. (Note the statement at the end of the legislation "This enactment shall take effect December 1, 2015" (emphasis suppled).)

Do you wonder if any of the County Legislators feel that they are being manipulated . . . or do you wonder if they even care?

Nothing like scheduling a "last minute" meeting to ensure maintenance of the status quo.

Update: Rome Sentinel

Friday, August 21, 2015

WTG New York Mills!

Interesting article in the Syracuse paper today: 5 things parents did in one CNY district to get so many to opt out of state tests
In New York Mills, a small school district in Oneida County, 77 percent of students opted out of the state's Common Core math test and 74 percent opted out of the English examination. The district had the highest percentage of students to opt out of the exams in the six-county Central New York region, according to a analysis of state Education Department data.
The article interviewed local parent and organizer Kate Despins who described five things parents did to get students to opt out.
5. Used the small community nature of New York Mills to their advantage. They talked to each other and to their children, so they all understood the issues.

"We are a small community and we talk to each other,'' Despins said. "If someone sneezes in New York Mills, we all know it. We see the same people at sporting events, at the grocery store and everywhere else, and we talk. We stick together, and we inform each other."

Despins said the high opt-out rate is because parents there understand the issues.
Small school districts are often looked down upon because they do not have the population to support all the offerings found in larger districts.  This story, however, exemplifies an advantage that a small school district offers over a larger one:  greater parental control.  It is easier for parents to organize themselves for action in a smaller district because they all know each other.

Who knows better what children need? Albany/Washington bureaucrats or their parents?

I'll opt for the parents any day!

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Per GE, Austrian company to invest $2 billion, bring 2,000 jobs to Nano Utica.

GE is coming back to Utica!  Willkommen to a new company from Austria, AMS!

Listening to the governor explain how Upstate got into its economic problem, he got it!

Now it is up to us to make the best of this good news.

More from the Sentinel, Times Union, and the OD.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

FD Post Mortem

The proposed Whitestown Fire District went down to defeat, being approved by both villages but soundly rejected by the township.  Why it was defeated will be the subject of speculation for the next few weeks.  Here's my take:

1) The case for "consolidation" was not credible . . .  not transparent.

  • "Pros" and "cons" for the project would be different for each community, but only the "pros" from the perspective of Oriskany and Whitesboro were presented.  Proponents completely missed the fact that the Town residents would be exposing themselves to potential liabilities they now avoid by being mere "customers" of village services.  
  • If you disagreed with the "pros,"  you were called a "liar" and had your motivations questioned rather than being civilly asked why your perspective was different.
  • The makeup of the Board of Commissioners (Town vs Villages) had yet to be decided -- i.e., the plans were still a work in progress.
  • Proposed tax rates and budgets were presented with no supporting documentation/explanation that public members could use to verify what they had been told.  
  • Since the public was not told of any specific equipment or personnel cuts, the financial benefits of "consolidation" were not evident. 
  • Since most service within the FD would be done by 2 rather than 4 units of firefighters, the "safety" benefit was not evident. 

2) "Consolidation" from the perspective of a fire department was not a "consolidation" from the perspective of the taxpayer, who would be faced with paying an additional unit of government. 

3) A board of appointed commissioners is not as accountable to the public as a board of elected commissioners.

The public is open to the idea of consolidation . . . but it must be real, transparent, and accountable.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Half-Baked Fire District

Per WKTV . . . 
"Whitesboro Fire Chief Peter Sobel . . . says the town could not have less votes than a village, but he says the ultimate makeup still has not been decided upon. He says Whitestown could get three commissioners . . ." 
The Villages will give up their equipment and their contractual payments from the Town, but don't even know how they are going to be represented on the new commission? They sound desperate to offload their FDs.

I guess the people will have to vote for the fire district to find out how they will be represented in it. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fire District "Consolidation" . . .

Here is a Question for proponents of the proposed Whitesboro-Oriskany-Whitestown Fire District "Consolidation" that creates a new unit of government not directly answerable to voters: 

Will the new Consolidated Fire District pay the Village of Oriskany and the Village of Whitesboro for their respective fire department assets (stations and equipment)? 

If so, how much will each village be paid, and how was the price determined? 

If not, then is not the Town getting something for nothing (a vote over use of village assets)?

I do not live in any of the jurisdictions involved so I'm ... 

Jus' askin.'   :-) 
More Thoughts . . .

Village Whitesboro
Village of Oriskany 
Town of Whitestown
Joint Fire District Propaganda 

From the above links the Oriskany link is most informative.   It appears that the Villages will be GIVING their equipment to the new FD, and the FD will lease the stations. What is the value of the equipment to be given away?  What assets, if any, will the Town give -- and what value? What will be the terms of the leases?  How will the rents be determined? Which village gets the better deal? What happens if down the road the FD and a village cannot come to an agreement on a lease?

This OD article from June points to another issue . . . 
Whitesboro Mayor Patrick O’Connor presented figures obtained through the government-transparency group See Through New York of the Empire Center for Public Policy that indicated New York Mills’ revenue from contracts for fire control exceed its expenses by as much as $266,390 over a five-year period. 
[Mayor] Bialek appeared taken aback.
If NYM is making a "profit" from its fire operation, are not the Villages of Whitesboro and Oriskany doing the same? If so, what "profits" are these villages giving up in this deal?

If they are not making a profit, you have to ask yourself "Why not?"

[The word "profit" is a bit misleading. It actually is a "return on the Village's investment" in real estate, equipment, and personnel PLUS A RETURN FOR THE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH RUNNING A FIRE DEPARTMENT. (If you do not understand the risks, ask the Village of Prospect)].

Have these Villages overspent on their FDs? Is this deal a quick way for village officials to cover up their mismanagement or poor negotiation skills?

The OD's tone in the article [the note about Mayor Bialek being taken aback] reminds me of another regionalization that the OD pushed 20 years ago: The regionalization of the Utica Board of Water Supply. [Utica readers should note who was mayor when the ball got rolling on that one, and who is again running for mayor this year.] The dynamics of that effort look similar to this one. Except for suburban developers, I do not think you can now find anyone paying MVWA's exorbitant cost for water who thinks that regionalization of the water system turned out well.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Hinckley, West Canada Creek Juggling Act . . .

In the middle of last month, a rapid drop in the level of Hinckley Reservoir left a number of boats "high and dry." Per the Herkimer Telegram . . .
On July 16, the state Power Authority was directed by the state Canal Corp. to begin releasing a total of 1,350 cubic feet per second from the reservoir, which made the water level drop around 5 feet overall. . . . 
Shane Mahar, deputy communications director for the Canal Corp., said the water released was to make up for a lack of released water so far in 2015. “Recently, we have been providing compensating flow to Erie Boulevard Hydropower because less water was released out of the reservoir earlier this year at the request of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority,” Mahar said.
By the end of the month, however, the problem had shifted to low water levels in the West Canada Creek below the reservoir.  Assemblyman Marc Butler and campground owner Mike Papp appeared on the WIBX Keeler Show and expressed concern over the lack of water in the West Canada Creek, with Mr. Papp commenting that normal flows at that time of year would be 800 to 1000 cfs, resulting in a creek level about 1 1/2 feet higher than it actually was (listen at about 4:00 in the interview). Further along concerns were expressed over how the creek would be impacted in the future by (1) withdrawals for Nano and (2) withdrawals by MVWA to serve western Oneida County.

Mr. Butler knows this issue better than any other public official in the region. His concerns are well placed and are not about a lack of water resources in the region, but over how those resources are managed.

The lack of a properly functioning Gray dam (destroyed by MVWA in 2002) contributes to the problem with water management, but how much needs to be calculated with reference to particular places, times, and purposes because the nature of the "problem" differs with place, time and purpose.

Hinckley Reservoir was built solely to supply the canal for navigation purposes. Riparian landowners along the West Canada Creek had no legal basis to object to diversion of creek water away from them for navigation purposes because that was always the state's right as sovereign under common law. Fluctuating water levels in both the reservoir and Creek would reflect the needs of the Canal for navigation.

Gray Reservoir existed to negate the impacts of MVWA's withdrawals. Under an old agreement with the State, Gray was supposed to store 120 days worth of water useage by the Utica area, with water to be released into Hinckley during dry weather to replace any water removed. The State originally required Gray to protect itself from claims by riparian landowners of infringement of their property rights because the State had no right to divert water  for non-navigation purposes. 

A couple years ago to settle a lawsuit, the State entered a new agreement with MVWA which removed the water storage requirement and ensured MVWA the right to withdraw about 48 Million Gallons of water per Day (MGD) from Hinckley.   It is believed that the State did this to guarantee enough water for Utica area Nano projects, which were not only a priority for local officials, but for the governor himself. While the new agreement accomplishes this objective, it also exposes the State to liability to riparian property owners for any damages caused by withdrawals for non-navigation purposes.

To avoid being sued, the State must now operate Hinckley to not only supply the canal (its original mission) and ensure MVWA's right to 48MGD (a new mission), but to also mitigate MVWA's withdrawals to the extent necessary to keep riparian owners from suing (Gray's former mission). So far, the power company has successfully sued the state -- which explains the rapid draining of Hinckley in mid-July to make up for power lost to the power company earlier in the season. 

The State will take the path of least resistance in juggling its rights with obligations to others. That juggling act will become ever more difficult as more water is diverted to the MVWA. 
Whether or not other riparian landowners have retained sufficient water rights, have sufficient incentive, and have sufficient funds to sue the State themselves remains to be seen.  Suffice it to say that if other owners do nothing, in the future, as more water is diverted to MVWA, the West Canada Creek will more frequently be reduced to only the lowest flow needed to sustain aquatic life.  That will interfere with the Creek's recreational uses.  If other landowners do successfully sue, then the State may have to reduce the water available to its Canal.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Whitestown FD: The Regionalization of Oriskany, Whitesboro Assets

People throw the word "consolidation" around a lot when it comes to local government, implying efficiencies and savings due to so-called economies of scale. Sometimes it works out that way, but other times it does not.

The latest "consolidation" under consideration is consolidation of the Oriskany and Whitesboro Village Fire Departments into a Whitestown Fire District which will serve the entire Town of Whitestown outside the Villages of New York Mills and Yorkville (which Villages decided not to participate in the scheme).   A list of alleged "pros" and short description of how this scheme would work was recently published in the Rome Sentinel. Some things stand out:
A potential decrease in the fire tax. . .

Equality of fire tax within the joint district — all pay the same fire rate. . . .

The new fire district would be run by five commissioners who are to be appointed by the town and village boards.

No doubt costs will be reduced to residents of the Town who live outside of the Villages.  Currently, the Town must negotiate contracts with the Town's Villages (Oriskany, Whitesboro,  NYM and Yorkville) for coverage in areas outside the Villages.  The Villages, which must maintain sufficient equipment to serve their Town "customer," no doubt ensure that their costs are covered during the negotiation process. These costs not only include equipment, but also transporting equipment and men the longer distances to Town locations relative to covering fires "around the corner" in the Villages.  Simply put, the cost to protect spread-out Town territory has to be more per home than the cost in densely developed Villages because greater distances must be traveled.  Town residents currently pay these additional costs associated with their service through the rates negotiated with the Villages.

But negotiations with Oriskany and Whitesboro will be eliminated by this plan. If people in Oriskany and Whitesboro will have an "equality of fire tax within the joint district," if "all pay the same fire rate," then . . .   


Voters in Oriskany and Whitesboro, beware.  Your fire assets are being "regionalized."

Update: Fault Lines: Fire District "Consolidation" . . .

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Oneida County Voters: Choice Challenged!

The petitions are in for Oneida County elected positions! However . . .
There are no challengers for county Executive Anthony Picente, Comptroller Joseph Timpano and District Attorney Scott McNamara. And 12 of the 23 Oneida County legislators won’t face a race this fall, either. . . .
Oneida County Democratic Party Chairman Mitch Ford said this could be the year the balance shifts.
But when Democrats challenge only 4 of the 13 (or less than 1/3 of the) Republican incumbent legislators while Republicans challenge 7 out of the 10 (more than 2/3 of the) Democrats, how likely is that?

It actually might be nice to see the balance on the board shifting once in awhile because it would mean that the votes people cast are making a difference, potentially injecting fresh new ideas into local governance.

But where races are uncontested, voting won't make a difference. 

Uncontested elections lead to the conclusion that "the fix is in," discouraging people from voting on election day.

The major party leaders, even when they might like what the opposite party is doing, should be cultivating and encouraging challengers for each office up for re-election, even if only to produce a field of more experienced candidates for future races.

Their not doing so suggests that party leader allegiances may be neither to their parties nor to the voters but to the existing ruling class. . . . and that would be a shame.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Regional Hospital: Why Downtown? Why Not the Former Psych Center on York?

Ahh, Money!  Lots and Lots of Money!  If it comes in too easily or unexpectedly, there is a tendency to get "crazy"  - to "splurge" --  to spend it quickly without thinking of all the consequences.

We've seen this craziness at the O.C. Airport, where the availability of $10's of millions of Federal dollars caused us to abandon a perfectly good airport for one that has become a costly nightmare to maintain, and an excuse for $10s of millions of additional local taxpayer "investments."

Now we may be seeing craziness again with the proposal of a regional Downtown Hospital due to a surprise "gift" of $300 million from the Cuomo administration. While we should be grateful to Whomever had the Governor's ear after years of the State ignoring us, we should not take leave of our senses when determining how or where to spend the money. . . The sidebar to the OD article gives the politicians' positives of the hospital being located Downtown.

How about the negatives?

1) Removal of multiple parcels of properties from the tax rolls.  Can Utica taxpayers really absorb more loss of taxable properties after about 70 parcels were taken for the Arterial expansion plus more for the Centro "hub" and a new County parking lot?

2) Further disruption of the street grid. To get a large enough parcel, some local streets will have to be discontinued. It will be like a large urban renewal project. Street eliminations will make what remains in Downtown less "pedestrian friendly," less "auto friendly," and, therefore, less likely to be redeveloped by tax-paying private interests.

3) The probability is that locating a large number of hospital employees Downtown will NOT spur private development.  People will go to work, then go home. A large hospital will have its own cafeteria. Did the State Office Building create a "boom" over what was previously in the neighborhood?  Did the new downtown Utica Mutual office spur development? Do you see a lot of private development around St. Luke's Hospital? The answer to all these questions is no.

4) The decreased use of the three current hospital sites.  This is unavoidable no matter where the new hospital is located.  Looking at what has happened in the neighborhood of the last hospital site so treated, the Psych Center on York Street, should give pause to those thinking that the sites to be left behind will not create new sets of problems. It should also make people question whether a $300M "gift" will be worth the disruption.

Regardless, if we must proceed with a Regional Hospital, a Downtown site presents significant risks as noted above.

Another potential site that has been mentioned is the Murnane Field area.  While placing the hospital on what is now a recreation area might decrease impacts to the City's tax base, it would destroy the current use of the site -- a use consistent with the Olmstead vision for Utica's Park System,  a vision that has worked very well for City residents for more than a century.  (Moving Murnane to the Harbor area as some have proposed may fail.  Why was McConnell Field, formerly at the harbor, abandoned?)  Why should Uticans have to give something up to get the $300 million gift?

The good thing is that the politicians seem to agree that the hospital should be in Utica where it would be closest to the center of the regional population.  So is there a Utica location that minimizes negatives and risks? 

The former Psych Center site on York St. between Court and Noyes seems to fill the bill: 

(1) No taxable property will be lost.
(2) The site is large enough, requiring no streets to be discontinued.
(3) No current uses of the site would have to be discontinued.
(4) The site is accessible, being easily reached via the street grid, on existing bus routes,  and only a few blocks from the new Court St. Interchange under construction. (A reopening of the York-Burrstone intersection could improve access.)
(5) The site's new use would be institutional healthcare, which is consistent with the old use.  That makes the site consistent and non-disruptive to the neighborhood which grew up around it.
(6) The blight on the former Psych Center site would be removed.

If there are any negatives to this site what are they? The only impediment would seem to be getting state agencies to give up some turf --  but this would be an easy way for them to off-load the burden of maintaining abandoned facilities.  Are there any other negatives?

Why not the York St. Psych Center site?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Utica Harbor: Living Up to Potential?

They began with the best of intentions. They took old sections of the city that were showing their age, took down what was there, and built new buildings. The idea was to breathe new life into old neighborhoods. . . . The buildings are now the legacy of our leaders of the 1960s and '70s. . . but did the results meet their goal?

Utica produced some notable buildings and public spaces during that era: New City Hall, Clock Tower, Plaza and Parking Garages; Hanna Park (with the now-defunct waterfall); Kennedy Plaza Apts.; State Office Building (with the now-defunct public plaza to the east which sat atop the now-defunct parking garage) and County Office Building.  These visible signs of "progress" (and decay because they could not be maintained) were largely funded by taxpayer dollars.

In spite of the new buildings and public spaces, the hoped-for private investment -- and a renewed vibrancy -- never followed. Stores never occupied the storefronts built facing Columbia Street and the space is now occupied by a medical supply company with trailer trucks often stopping downtown traffic. The 6-story office tower intended to sit atop the garage next to City Hall never materialized. The large parcel of land surrounding the apartment tower attracted a couple of cheap metal buildings that were totally out of character with both old and new neighboring buildings -- but otherwise remained largely empty space (grass or parking lots) even to this day.  The high rise apartment tower, which might have been designed to attract a well-heeled clientele owing to its views, contains "Section 8" housing.  The "renewed" area was and is a far cry from the active, densely developed space that it replaced. What went wrong?

We now know that projects such as Utica's Urban Renewal project failed, at least in part, because they were inconsistent with and destroyed the "walkability" of the neighborhoods they were placed in, isolating people from amenities they want.  Cities, such as Greenville, SC, learned this lesson and have recreated downtown vibrancy by making them pedestrian friendly. Successful private developers, even locally (eg. Landmarc, New Hartford Shopping Center), have learned the lesson, too, and are designing projects that are "walkable" in the sense that occupants will not have to walk far to find things they want.

Now compare the proposed Harbor Point Plan with Utica's failed  '60s Urban Renewal area.  Both plan(ned) a few key "trophy" buildings with uses pre-designated by local leaders (which may not be what "the market" would be interested in), in a low-density environment (which reduces "walkability"), with no requirement to "fit in" with each other or their surroundings, and with public "amenities" which require taxpayer maintenance.

Waterfront acreage should be the most valuable property in the city. Why is it being wasted on ball fields, an "interpretive center," a farmers' market, trails, and an outdoor amphitheater which will (1) not generate any tax revenue, but also (2) burden the taxpayer with additional things to maintain, and (3) duplicate amenities the City already has?  (We commented on the ball fields back in 2010.)

Nicky Doodles at Harbor Point, which offers first rate products in a first rate facility, now seems overshadowed and oddly placed with the hulking Fairfield rising next door. If both are being touted as part of the Harbor Point "project," why do their designs detract from rather than enhance each other? Wouldn't a good master plan for the project avoid incongruities and protect the value of private investment, by imposing design requirements to ensure that buildings "work" together, e.g., as in a  "form based code?"

Harbor Point not only has waterfront acreage, it has a "million dollar view" of Downtown. Can you find anything in the Harbor Point Plan that leverages this viewshed to the advantage of the development?

Does the plan erase the boundary between governmental function and private effort? The plan talks about all the possible things that could go into Harbor Point, and even locates specific activities in specific places, but is there a market for these things?  Maybe we do not really need another ethnic restaurant, another farmer's market, or another place for people to go and sample locally crafted products. Are artists inspired to complete canvases someone else has started?  Isn't that what happened with Urban Renewal?  Shouldn't it be up to the developer to decide what goes into the project? And where?

The City's interest should be limited to providing the regulatory and  infrastructure framework calculated necessary to ensure development of sufficient density to increase net revenue to the city.  If this is not possible, perhaps Harbor Point's time has not yet arrived.   Regardless . . .

The Harbor Point Plan does not seem to reflect the site's potential.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Customary Fantasy . . .

According to the Rome Sentinel: With new customs agent, Griffiss can accept international arrivals.
A permanent customs presence is seen as a value-added service for the aircraft maintenance and overhaul facilities whose customers sometimes send planes to Griffiss from foreign starting points.

Additionally, it is hoped that having a customs facility will help attract more international flights, boosting fuel sales. More than a million gallons were sold last year. The county is paid 8 cents for every gallon of aircraft fuel sold by ground services provider Million Air.

Boosting fuel sales?  Is that Oneida County's objective? The County would be much better off operating a 7-11.

Attracting international flights? Do people fly in from other countries just to meet with a customs agent, or because they have business locally?  Just how much international business is there locally? 

Of course, Griffiss had already been accepting international arrivals with arrangements made as needed for an agent to come out from Syracuse to meet the plane.  So now, to avoid the bother of having to make those arrangements,  per the Observer Dispatch Oneida County Taxpayers are on the hook for almost $150,000/year in pay and benefits for the agent... i.e., almost $3,000/week! Additionally, the agent is on duty only 8 hrs./day 5 days per week, so it looks like calls to Syracuse will continue when a flight comes in outside of the scheduled shift.  

So far since the agent has been on duty, international traffic has been about 1 -- that's One, Uno, Un, Einer, Jedan, один, ένας, واحد -- flight per week!
“Our hope is that if you take a longer view, it will more than pay for itself,” Majority Leader George Joseph said. “It takes a while for the word to spread. It’s just another tool in our toolbox we can offer as we promote the airport.”
That's an Expensive Tool!
The county Board of Legislators’ Democratic Minority Leader Frank Tallarino said he never supported the installation of a Customs facility, and it’s no surprise business there hasn’t been more brisk. “At this point in time we did not need that expense,” he said. “We need a carrier first.” 
Tallarino said until airport fees levied by Million Air, the company that operates the terminal, are lowered, the carriers will keep away.
Mr. Tallarino raises an important point. Back to the Sentinel article . . .
Here’s a look at the number of takeoffs and landings between January and April over the last five years: 2015: 6,356; 2014: 7,964; 2013: 11,269; 2012: 18,570; and 2011, 17,120.
Why are those numbers dropping? Why is that not a clear signal that Oneida County is doing something wrong? How do the airport fees levied by Million Air compare with airports elsewhere in comparably sized markets? Who can answer these questions?  Why isn't the Board of Legislators asking these questions?

Are Board Members letting their party politics or personal animosities get in the way of listening to each other and getting answers to logical questions?

The Customs agent was the subject of a posting here back in 2012 when we were told that a customs agent would help "a lot" and we asked the question "How much is 'a lot?' "
One suspects that we'll build another Taj Mahal facility that will be mostly empty -- and have Customs Agent "Tatoo" sitting around most of the time waiting for "the plane, the plane."  
Fantasies sometimes do come true!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Sacrificing Our Values on the Alter of Free Trade

Per his Facebook page yesterday, Rep. Hanna "voted 'yes' on H.R. 2393, the Country of Origin Labeling Amendments Act of 2015."  
Country of origin labeling provisions were enacted in 2002 to require certain meat retailers to inform consumers of the country of origin on the product’s label. Shortly after the law was implemented, Canada and Mexico challenged it at the World Trade Organization (WTO). After years of appeals, the WTO issued a final ruling saying that the country of origin rule has a trade distorting impact by reducing the value and number of cattle and hogs shipped to U.S. markets. As a result, Canada and Mexico plan to subject certain U.S. markets to more than $3 billion in retaliatory tariffs . . .

This bill repeals country of origin labeling requirements for retailers of beef, pork, and chicken, at the final point of sale in order to prevent the imposition of these harmful tariffs.
So,  a law intended to inform the AMERICAN consumer is swept away because some Canadians and Mexicans don't like it? 

Who does Congress represent? Americans? or Canadians and Mexicans? 

It seems that our Congressman finds it appropriate for our country to change or debase its own values based upon reactions and threats from abroad. And, apparently, he is willing to subject our own sovereignty to a "world" organization's judgement! What will be next? 

Today "Fast Track" will be considered . . .  a protocol to subject future trade agreements negotiated by the administration to quick "up-or-down" votes with no opportunity for changes . . . and little opportunity for scrutiny.  I.e., that's why it is "fast track:"  These lengthy agreements with the potential to significantly affect everyday American life (like NAFTA has done since the 1990s) will go by so fast that there will be insufficient time to digest their contents.  

There are several "Free Trade" agreements pending that will be "Fast Tracked" if Fast Track goes through.  But there is a big problem with "Free Trade." It presumes that the world shares the same values when it does not. 

It is "Free Trade" notions which have allowed American companies to take advantage of the American Marketplace while avoiding costly American Laws (expressions of our values) by exporting American Jobs to overseas where goods ultimately destined for American consumers are made. 

"Free Trade" is not really "free" if we have to sacrifice jobs and values.

It will be interesting to see how Mr. Hanna and the other Congress Members vote on these issues.  If the vote on HR 2393 is any indication, Fast Track and the various pending agreements will be approved.  And then it will be clear that Congress does not represent Americans . . . nor even Canadians or Mexicans. . . .

Rather, it will have proven itself to be a mere functionary of the global corporatists who are the real beneficiaries of these agreements.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Top Metros for Advanced Industries...

Brookings Institute just released its list of the 15 hottest  metros for advanced industries.

A couple surprises: 1. Utah contained three of them. 2. Albany, NY was nowhere to be seen.

So, in spite of Billions of NY taxpayer dollars being spent in the Albany metro area on nano, it does not even register a mention. In fact, no place in New York State was mentioned.

Perhaps Utah does so well on this list because, Per CNBC, it is the third best place in the country overall and the number one cheapest in cost for doing business.

New York could learn a thing or two from Utah!

Monday, June 01, 2015

An Artificial Economy Fueled by Taxpayer Dollars . . .

Last September we noted Oneida County's deal with Solar City to install solar panels. In October we discussed the State's "trophy project" deal with Solar City to make solar panels in Buffalo. By January we noted the secrecy surrounding the Buffalo project which continued through May.

The story now continues:  Per the L.A. Times over the weekend:  Elon Musk's growing empire is fueled by $4.9 billion in government subsidies.

Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space.

And he's built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies. . .

Tesla and SolarCity continue to report net losses after a decade in business, but the stocks of both companies have soared on their potential; Musk's stake in the firms alone is worth about $10 billion. . . . 
Musk and his companies' investors enjoy most of the financial upside of the government support, while taxpayers shoulder the cost.
Regarding the New York project:
New York state is spending $750 million to build a solar panel factory in Buffalo for SolarCity. The San Mateo, Calif.-based company will lease the plant for $1 a year. It will not pay property taxes for a decade, which would otherwise total an estimated $260 million.
An accompanying article gives this breakdown of government benefits to Solar City:
$750 million — New York State cost to build solar panel factory 
$1.5 billion — Estimated value of 30% subsidy for solar installation since 2006, including at least $497 million in Treasury grants 
$5.6 million — Oregon tax credits and rebates
         $260 million  — New York local property tax exemptions

You have to ask yourself two questions: (1) If solar panel installation and manufacture were such a good deal, why was this not financed by private investors?  (2) How long can taxpayers keep subsidizing government-approved technologies?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

And the Next Raleigh-Durham is . . . Utica?

Yes, you can feel it in the air. There is a new sense of hope in Utica for a brighter future. It has been a long time coming . . . and it is a good thing!

Per the OD today, a HUD official says that Utica could be the next Raleigh-Durham!  The official, Mr. Forero out of the Albany HUD office, pointed to Utica's population statistics and noted that they were similar to Raleigh-Durham, NC, one of the country's fastest growing cities.

Comparing ourselves to our competitors to see how we measure up is a good thing. It shows us where we are strong, and where we need improvement.  The fact that Utica has a young demographic like Raleigh-Durham gives hope for the future.

But will these young people stay here?

How does Utica compare to Raleigh-Durham by other measures?  Are its taxes as low as Raleigh-Durham? Are its utility costs as low as Raleigh-Durham?  Does a "Right to Work" law prevail like in Raleigh-Durham? Are Utica's demographics the product of people flocking to Utica for employment opportunities like in Raleigh-Durham, or are they due to the importation of people from areas of strife in other parts of the world?

Utica needs to be able to answer these questions honestly, to know some of the changes it needs to make to actually become the next Raleigh-Durham.

In so far as listening to Federal HUD officials, if the Federal Government was not spreading around millions of tax dollars (OUR tax dollars), should anyone actually listen to these people?  The Federal Government is the source of the "20% Affordable Housing" requirement for new housing developments found in the Utica Master Plan . . . a requirement in a city already known for the affordability of its housing stock . . .  and in a city that desperately needs Upscale housing to bring in tax revenue to sustain city services.

Utica is turning around through private efforts . . . and does not need Big Government to mess things up!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hotel Utica: Change the Management!

The Utica OD had been asking its readers for suggestions on what to do with the Hotel Utica now that a $million in back taxes is owed and a potential sale of the facility has recently fallen through.

How about this:  Run it as an hotel!

The hotel was beautifully restored during the last decade.  But the ability to bring about a successful restoration of an hotel does not mean there is an ability to successfully run an hotel.  A different skill set is involved.

The Utica Phoenix has an article this month that makes a strong case that the Hotel Utica's problems are due to poor management -- in particular by a family member of the hotel's owner.

Most people can understand that if you have a business, you want to take care of your kids. . . .

But here, the Taxpayers have been on the hook for this facility.  The City should use its creditor status to either leverage the owner to fire current management and hire someone with expertise and success in running a large hotel . . .

Or foreclose on the facility, hire the expert, and run the facility itself until a buyer can be found.

The fact that new hotels are going up in the vicinity establishes the market for hotel rooms. The City controls the hotel's environs (which could probably use some sprucing up).  The City has the power to fix this.

Taxpayers deserve movement on this issue.

Baby Killer!!

The headline in the Syracuse paper says it all:

House passes bill banning abortions after 20 weeks: Hanna splits with GOP

- - - - - -
Noon Update:

There is more than just the woman here -- there is another person. There is virtually no difference in that person before and after passing through the birth canal or being removed via C-section. The person is viable. Courts have long recognized wrongful death claims for babies in utero. Because abortion at early stages in pregnancy has been found legal, someone has to draw the line as to when personhood rights under the US Constitution attach. Like the abolition of slavery, that job properly belongs to Congress. And contrary to Mr. Hanna's assertion on his Facebook page, exceptions are provided for the mother's health and in other circumstances. See Section 1532 (b)(2)(B) at .

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Politics Over People . . .

That's the thought that replayed over and over in my mind as I listened to two painful interviews with State Sen. James Seward this morning, the first on WIBX and the second on WUTQ.

What was painful was listening to the Senator's excuses for voting for Sen. Flanagan of  Long Island as the new Senate Majority leader over Sen. DeFrancisco from Syracuse. Per WIBX sources . . .
Seward’s vote was instrumental in keeping the leadership of the Republican run senate on Long Island. . .
Seward seemed to gloss over the vote when speaking with Keeler saying, “by the time the vote got to (him) it was already decided.” Keeler challenged that point and asked about inside sources who say 2 Long Island senators threatened to retire if Flanagan wasn’t elected, which would most likely lead to the Republicans losing their majority in the Senate
Mr. Seward was not the only one.  Six Upstate Republicans threw in for the Downstater over the guy from Syracuse.    Per the Syracuse paper
Some Upstate conservatives felt Monday's vote was a blow to the gut.

Seward responded, "I would say, I'm more concerned with the agenda that's pursued rather than with where a leader is from."   
Well what agenda is that, Mr. Seward?

In both interviews Seward in sickening fashion rattled on and on about his "agenda" dealing with some of the intricacies of the SAFE Act and the Common Core rollout. . . . things that would be of interest to Republicans in Westchester and Long Island.

But these problems are symptoms of a much bigger issue for everyone North and West of Poughkeepsie: Upstate's borderline Third World economy caused by The Tyranny of the Downstate Majority.

Simply put, for our region the difference between Republican and Democrat is not as significant as the difference between Upstate and Downstate.  Here was the opportunity, via the Majority Leader position, for Upstate to strongly influence the "agenda" -- to advance an Upstate Agenda -- but the 6 Upstate Republicans including Mr. Seward who voted for Mr. Flanagan blew it. 

They were more concerned about their party than their constituents. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Indian Point: Our Problem, Too . . .

Local residents need to keep an eye on the aftermath of the recent explosion at the Indian Point nuclear plant near Poughkeepsie, NY.  No, there was no meltdown.  Systems properly shut down when the explosion occurred.  However, there was an oil spill. . . . You can be sure that there will be more calls for the plant to be shut down, even though it supplies 25% of the power for New York City and Westchester County. People have been calling for shutdown of this plant for years.

In addition, coal fired plants in the Downstate region are in the process of being shut down.  Protection of the environment is cited as the reason.

While to some Indian Point and the closure of coal plants may be a Downstate problem, and to others it may be an Environmental problem, for us locally it represents an Economic Problem. Because from where will the power to replace that of the shut down plants come from?

Indian Point needs to be kept open. If it is closed...which is Cuomo's goal...history will repeat itself. Cuomo's father shut down the Shoreham LI nuke plant due to popular pressure ...and Upstaters -- inspite of having an abundance of cheap hydro power -- now pay some of the highest electrical rates in the nation because our power was sent Downstate. The high rates contributed to Upstate's loss of jobs. Solar and wind have not proven economical compared to fossil fuels...

Sure a meltdown is a scary possibility, and coal-fired plants may be obnoxious. But we Upstaters are living in almost a third world economic reality now to keep the City and environs lit. 

If we have to give up more to help Downstate, what would we get in return?

For past Fault Lines commentary concerning Indian Point check out these posts.
2006: Environmental Justice
2008: NYRI/Marcy-South;  Indian Point Progress ; Not Fighting NYRI on All Fronts
2011: Cuomo, Jr.'s Shoreham

Friday, May 08, 2015

Buffalo Billion: The Secrecy Continues . . .

The Buffalo Billion Solar City project, its Utica connection, and the secrecy from NYS was discussed here in January, largely based upon a December article in the Investigative Post.

Today, several months later, the "main stream media" has picked up on the secrecy problem on the Buffalo News' editorial page: Transparency needed at Solar City construction site.
For those unfamiliar with the project, the construction of this facility is being financed entirely through the state of New York. New York will own the facility and all equipment within it, with SolarCity promising to provide 3,000 employees to utilize it. . . .

As frequently happens when dealing with projects involving the government, the devil is in the details. As Associated Builders and Contractors and our members began inquiring as to how to get work on this massive $750 million dollar-plus project, we ran into a brick wall.

The more research we did on this issue for our members, the more frustrated we became. In fact, it came to a point where our staff was actually submitting Freedom of Information Act requests to find out more information on the bidding, who was getting the work that was being done, etc. These requests for information have gone unanswered.
Back in December, the State was stonewalling an investigative reporter on how taxpayers' money was being spent. Now the State is stonewalling a construction trade association on who is performing all the site work...

 We The People are taxed to the yazoo in NYS but are not entitled to see how money is spent or who is benefiting. Seems like nothing ever changes in New York State.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Refugee Lawsuit: A Helping Hand, Biting the Hand, or Something Else?

Utica has had a stellar record of being a welcoming haven for immigrants and refugees for at least a century -- so much so that the United Nations has called Utica the "Town that Loves Refugees." School doors have been open to such a variety of peoples that forty-two languages are spoken in Utica's schools! Utica can be proud of the stories of refugees who found success locally. These inspiring stories remind us of our own immigrant forebears to whom we owe so much.

So it came as quite a shock to learn from WKTV that the Utica School district is being sued for (allegedly) illegally denying refugee youth an education.  The OD also had an article. How is this possible in a school district renowned for its diversity?

A "helping hand?"

The complaint, brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union and its Central New York affiliate on behalf of six students and "others similarly situated,"
"challenges the Defendants’ policy and practice of excluding limited English proficient (“LEP”) immigrants aged 17-20 from Thomas R. Proctor High School (“Proctor High School”) in Utica, N.Y. . . . [1]
It alleges that
. . . For the last 8 years, Defendants have been excluding LEP immigrants (primarily refugees) over 16 years of age from Proctor High School, the only high school in Utica, and diverting them to alternative education programs.  . . . [3]
And it seeks
. . . an order requiring Defendants to enroll LEP immigrants aged 17-20 in Proctor High School if the immigrants want to go to high school, are residents of the Utica City School District, and have not yet turned 21 years old [among other "Relief" requested].
The suit claims, with specific reference to NY Ed Law 3202 (1), that individuals have the right "to attend the high school within their district" until they turn 21 or earn a high school diploma, that it must be the student's choice to attend an alternative program, and that  
For the last eight years, however, the Defendants have been robbing immigrant students of that choice." [4, emphasis supplied]
Wow!  The Utica school district "robs" immigrant students of "choice" -- and the "civil liberties" attorneys are lending a helping hand make sure that the students have this "choice?"

The complaint gives details of the students' ages, the countries they came from, the hardships they sustained, their native languages, the fact that they are "LEP," and their hopes and dreams (of being a doctor, nurse, teacher, engineer).  Every single one of them has spent 17 years in an overseas refugee camp, i.e., virtually their entire life in a world vastly different from Utica. Other than to mention that one student had been taught unspecified subjects at the camp, the complaint is totally silent on the students' educational achievement. The complaint's silence on this point makes it safe to assume they are uneducated.   But these students -- or rather, their lawyers -- insist they be able to attend high school which is grades 9-12.

Let's assume that all the allegations in the complaint are true. What happens if the plaintiffs get their wish? Assuming no language barrier, how well would students who are probably 8 to 10 years behind their peers in content learning and with little exposure to our culture do in a high school classroom?

For any student to be successful in a high school course, the student needs to have mastered the prerequisites. Without the prerequisites, the time spent in class is wasted.  Worse, frustration may set in that leads to behavior problems. It is not unusual for alternative settings to be created for such students -- and such are the best placement for them.

Now add (1) a language barrier and (2) lack of cultural context on top of (3) a lack of formal education. Allowing such students to attend regular high school classes rather than the district's alternative programs designed to teach English and cultural awareness would cause more harm than good. Some might call it educational malpractice! Should lawyers be aiding vulnerable, illiterate students to make bad choices?

Biting the hand?

While we can be proud of Utica's cultural diversity, the volume and variety of immigrant students taken into Utica schools has placed  financial burdens on local taxpayers -- taxpayers who are already burdened with some of the highest taxes in the nation. Now they will be burdened with the cost of a lawsuit, spending money on lawyers rather than education.

Regardless of the requirements of "the law," considering all that Utica has done to make refugees feel welcome, some Uticans will view this lawsuit as a "slap in the face" or as "biting the hand that feeds you" - a demonstration of ungratefulness, dissatisfaction, and sense of "entitlement" by newcomers. Over time, this could lead to a change in attitude and lead to Utica becoming a less-welcoming place. It would be a tragedy if that happens because that would represent a change in Utica's character.

While there are always those among us (immigrants and non-immigrants alike) who have that "sense of entitlement" and will institute lawsuits to assert "rights" on the flimsiest of pretexts to make a point (especially when someone else pays the bill), from what is known about these plaintiffs this does not seem to be the case.  Simply put, they are too new to America,  too unfamiliar with our customs, and too involved in learning how to survive to worry about an alleged "right" to attend Proctor High School. No, this lawsuit is not their "biting the hand." Rather, they are being prodded to do this by others with an agenda.

Something else?

The fact that a press release was issued and media contacted before the school district was even served with the complaint reveals a calculated effort to create a media buzz before the District could intelligently respond.  That does not demonstrate a sincere desire to solve a problem, but, rather a desire to play to public opinion.

The claim that the district was "robbing" the students of choice is unnecessarily inflammatory language that similarly evinces a desire to play to public opinion rather than solve a problem.

The complaint misstates NY Ed Law 3202 (1).  That provision does NOT state that individuals have the right "to attend the high school within their district" until they turn 21. Rather it states that  that such students are "entitled to attend the public schools maintained in the district in which such person resides without the payment of tuition.

How schooling of LEP students is to be accomplished is prescribed by NY Ed Law 3204 and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of Education there under.  The complaint implies that Utica is not in compliance with NY law, mentions only one regulation pertaining to bilingual education, but then fails to demonstrate that the regulation even applies (see pleading #57).  [The NYCLU attorneys should read section 3204 thoroughly. Subdivision 3(a)(3) regarding courses of study will probably send some of them into orbit!]

If the Utica district does not comply with NY Law, why is not NYCLU working through the NYS Department of Education instead of proceeding directly to federal court and wasting that court's valuable time?  Did they not hear of the concept of "exhaustion of administrative remedies?" NYCLU Staff attorney Desgranges is quoted by WKTV as saying “Across the state, school districts are refusing to enroll young people who are immigrants or limited English proficient, instead placing them in inappropriate or inadequate programs.” If this is a state-wide problem, it would seem that the appropriate course of action would be to go after the state, not Utica.

Mr. Desgranges then goes on to state that Utica has an obligation to educate "all young people, including undocumented immigrants and refugees." The complaint also references an obligation to the undocumented.  While that may be true, what does that have to do with this lawsuit?

Or is the NYCLU trying to pressure Utica to accept an expected wave of undocumented immigrants? Such has been reported to  be on the president's agenda.

Lastly, is it just coincidence that one of Utica's student immigrant success stories, who's bio reveals an amount of activism and political connection, also happens to be on the board of the suing NYCLU Central New York  chapter?  Nah . . . must be coincidence.

The lawsuit is neither a helping hand, nor biting the hand.  It's something else: a political agenda.